Sweet Sixteener Kali Wallace recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Chandler Baker about her YA horror novel, ALIVE (June 9, 2015, Disney-Hyperion).
Chandler Baker got her start ghost-writing novels for teens and ‘tweens before turning to her own stories. She grew up in Florida, went to college in Pennsylvania, and studied law in Texas where she now lives with her husband. Although she loves spinning tales with a touch of horror, she is a much bigger scaredy-cat than her stories would lead you to believe.
Stella Cross’s heart is poisoned. After years on the transplant waiting list, she’s running out of hope that she’ll ever see her eighteenth birthday. Then, miraculously, Stella receives the transplant she needs to survive.
Determined to embrace everything she came so close to losing, Stella throws herself into her new life. But her recovery is marred by strange side effects: Nightmares. Hallucinations. A recurring pain that flares every day at the exact same moment. Then Stella meets Levi Zin, the new boy on everyone’s radar at her Seattle prep school. Stella has never felt more drawn to anyone in her life, and soon she and Levi are inseparable.
Stella is convinced that Levi is her soul mate. Why else would she literally ache for him when they are apart? After all, the heart never lies…does it?
Kali: Congratulations of the publication of ALIVE! I had so much fun reading this book. What a wonderful, creepy ride it is. One aspect I really love is that it’s as much a story about going through and recovering from a traumatic illness as it is a supernatural thriller. I’d love to hear a little about how that all came together. What kind of research did you do to get the medical aspects right — and more importantly, to get into the head of a teenage girl who thought her life was over and is now living a second chance?
Chandler: Thank you! Yes, it was important to me for the thriller aspect to be almost a metaphor for the experience of dealing with chronic illness. Thankfully, I’ve never had to deal with chronic illness myself, but there were a few times during the writing of this book where I came down with something as mundane as a cold and just thought to myself: “Thank goodness for my health!”
The first thing I did was read as many firsthand accounts as I could find online from patients and family members of patients dealing with organ transplant and with heart transplants in particular. I’m also lucky enough to have a very close friend, Dr. Arielle Heeke (and her husband, Dr. Brian Heeke), who checked the medical records that appear in the book and answered questions when I had them.
Kali: Your main character Stella and her best friend are obsessed with all manner of creepy-weird things and have a shared love of paranormal speculation, urban legends, Stephen King novels, etc. Be honest with me now: Did that come from you own love of creepy-weird things? Were there any stories or legends in particular that inspired you when you were writing this novel?
Chandler: Oh my goodness, I have a love-hate relationship with all things scary. I have a vivid imagination so I am constantly terrified when doing things like walking to my car at night or staying home alone. I know I have to shield myself from certain horror movies because I will literally check under beds and in closets for weeks. But I always have to know what happens. I have read the Wikipedia synopsis for probably any horror movie you could ever think of! I’m also obsessed with True Crime Library where I binge read histories of serial killers and famous murders. Last year, my husband and I were in Oklahoma and we even took a special detour just to locate the grave of this outlaw whose body was mistakenly used in Hollywood as a set piece for years until someone realized it was a real dead body.
In terms of what inspired this story, though, I would say it was primarily my own fears. I thought a lot about what scares me—the things I imagine happening when, as I mentioned, I’m walking to my car at night or staying home alone. I’m terrified of being watched or of someone—or something—jumping out at me. I wrote those fears into the book.
Kali: What has your experience as a debut author been like so far? Any tips or secrets you’d like to share with other writers just getting into the whole publishing circus?
Chandler: Find a great support network! I know you’ve already done this with the Sweet Sixteens, which is amazing. The fellow debut authors I’ve met have been a tremendous comfort to me, but also an invaluable resource when I need to bounce ideas off them, whether it’s been about craft or marketing or what to wear to my launch party. The other is to put writing first always. Nothing makes me feel more off-center than if I haven’t gotten my writing in. If I keep writing, the rest all falls into place.
Kali: And finally: What can we expect to see from you in the future? Do you have any other books in the works?
Chandler: Yes! I have High School Horror, a new series coming out with Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan. The first book, Teen Frankenstein, hits shelves in January 2016. I’m excited about this series because, from the beginning I’ve been working with Tony DiSanto and his fabulous team at DiGa Vision (Teen Wolf, Teen Mom, Laguna Beach, The Hills, Jersey Shore, Scream). I also have another deal that hasn’t been announced yet, but that I’m over the moon about!
Lightning round questions
Favorite Stephen King book?
Best time and place to write?
Early morning at my home office desk
What were you reading when you were sixteen?
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
If you came back as a spirit from beyond the grave, who would you haunt?
My husband. He loves being scared.
Are you a planner or a panster when it comes to writing?
A reformed planner. Most of the time.
If you could say anything at all to your sixteen-year-old self, what would it be?
Don’t be so easily embarrassed. Not everyone is watching you!
Kali Wallace studied geophysics before she realized she enjoyed inventing imaginary worlds more than she liked researching the real one. After a lifetime in Colorado, she decided on a whim to trade the mountains for the beach and now lives in Southern California. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, including Clarkesworld, F&SF, Asimov’s, Lightspeed, and Tor.com. In her YA literary horror debut, SHALLOW GRAVES (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books, Winter 2016), a murdered teenage girl is resurrected as an undead creature with dangerous powers, and she must find a way to reconcile memories of her old, normal life with the magical underworld to which she now belongs, a world populated by monsters from international folklore as well as the people who hunt them.